For fifteen thousand years, fraud and short-sighted thinking have never, ever worked. Not once. Eventually you get caught, things go south. When the hell did we forget all that?
—Mark Baum, The Big Short1
The wellness industry is built on the quite reasonable premise that prevention is better and less expensive than a cure. But, from that premise, the industry ventures deep into embellishment. It promises that early detection through screenings and assessments will prevent debilitating and costly diseases. It swears it can deliver behavior change. Finally, insisting that education and incentives can change bad habits, it claims programs for personal improvement, such as weight loss and smoking cessation, will provide 300% to 600% returns on investment.
None of that is true.
Traditional wellness programs have not improved health outcomes, lowered costs, reduced chronic disease, changed behavior, improved engagement, or helped to attract and retain talent.
Wellness has become a culture or a system of belief that defies the data and common sense. For example, if wellness (or any other) programs give 300% or greater ROI, every company would be increasing—desperately increasing—their investments in those programs. And they're not.
Programs, departments, bureaus, and other power centers very naturally build support for their own existence. As part of a pure survival instinct, they tell good stories that everyone hopes are true. They ...